AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers passed a statewide law laying the groundwork for the state to lead the nation in implementing self-driving cars. The House Transportation Committee met Thursday to get an update on implementation.
A representative for General Motors told a select panel of lawmakers they could have a small fleet up and running by 2019.
SB 2205 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would set the Department of Public Safety to regulate the automated vehicles. The law that took effect Sept. 1 puts the power to regulate self-driving cars in the hands of the state, and not local cities or counties.
The law sets the owner of the automated car as the vehicle’s legal operator and allows the driving system to be the entity licensed to operate the vehicle. However, the law requires the car to have a recording device installed by the manufacturer.
Companies looking to implement self-driving cars in Texas in the years to come are Uber, Google and General Motors.
The truth is, there are automated cars on the road already; with lane assist measures and basic cruise control. But for full auto cars with hands off the wheel, that’s not too far away. Chandra Bhat, Ph.D. from UT’s Center for Transportation Research, says early adopters are companies with large fleets.
“For good reason. They can save substantially. Taxicab companies, they can save substantially,” said Bhat.
The major players in the field are Google, General Motors and Uber.
“We look to states that have very forward thinking regulatory approach and Texas is certainly at the forefront of that,” said Travis Considine, communications manager for Uber Texas.
Considine tells KXAN the company is happy with its two pilot programs in Pittsburgh and Phoenix. There, automated cars have logged 30,000 hours, driving more than a million trips. They could launch in Texas sooner than other states because of our flat and easy to drive landscape.
“The vehicles are self-driving but they are not driver-less. There is a driver in the vehicle. That’s just the stage we’re at now. In the future, somewhere down the line, it would be fully automated,” Considine said.
But for a customer buying an automated car for personal use? That could still be decades away.
In the meantime, there are still hard conversations to have like whether to program the computer to protect the people in the car or those on the sidewalks and streets outside.
“It’s not just automation, technology, engineering, it’s all of these human aspects,” Bhat said.